Outrageous 'tiny' materialism

By Hu Qingyun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-18 0:43:02

Moviegoers walk past a promotional poster for the film Tiny Times. The film has spurred controversy over its depiction of materialism. Photo: CFP

Moviegoers walk past a promotional poster for the film Tiny Times. The film has spurred controversy over its depiction of materialism. Photo: CFP

Tiny Times, a film by first-time director but seasoned writer Guo Jingming, has barreled into box-office success, generating 440 million yuan ($71.1 million) as of Tuesday, since its release on June 27, and knocking American blockbuster Man of Steel from its leading sales position.

The tale is nothing exceptional. It merely shows four young women navigating college life and romance, but it has spurred consternation from surprising quarters, including the government's flagship newspaper, the People's Daily.

Most criticism has centered on the blatant materialism expressed by the protagonists, who find satisfaction in luxury goods and the pursuit of capable men.

Guo, who wrote the film as a series of novels before adapting it to the screen, has further stirred controversy by saying he made the film for his fans, rather than as a stand-alone film.

Somewhat ironically, the criticism, which was included in the culture pages of the People's Daily, caused a backlash online prompting support for the film, as experts and the public debate whether the film reflects societal problems or really is just another movie.

Storm in a tiny cup

The People's Daily's article admitted that youth literature and films have their own style and audiences, but said that on this occasion, the film went too far in encouraging youth to become materialistic adults.

The article went on to say that it would be "dangerous" if the success of the film prompted sequels, as the impact would be spread over a whole generation.

These concerns were echoed by film commentator Zhou Liming, who wrote on his online blog that it was "sick" that the film focused so much on materialism.

"Purchasing luxury goods is seen as a way (in the film) to express love or friendship, and the word 'money' is repeated over and over again."

Despite the controversy the second film will still be released in early August. The actors remain undeterred - the day after the People's Daily's critique, they posted stills on their Sina Weibo accounts promoting the upcoming film.

"We haven't heard any news indicating that the second film will be suspended. Because the first was such a hit, we expect that the second one can do as well as, or even better than the first one," a manager of a cinema in Beijing, surnamed Xu, told the Global Times. The second and third films have already received approval from the government.

The Shenyang Evening News reported on Tuesday that the production company of the film said that they would take the recent criticism into account and try to include more "positive" values in the following films, without revealing whether they plan to reedit the films or not.

In the cinema where Xu works the film has been scheduled to play every 90 minutes to meet demand during the summer holidays.

When reached by the Global Times, the producers of the movie refused to comment regarding criticism from the media and the debates within society, only saying that every popular movie gets good and bad reviews.

However, Chen Lizhi, the owner of the promotion company for Tiny Times, wrote in his account that it is too much to say that one film can influence an era.

In pursuit of wealth

Jin Sha, a young film maker and scriptwriter who has made several films about youth, told the Global Times that the popularity of the film is likely to be a result of its business model and dedication to profit.

"They just provide what their audience wants, regardless of whether its theme is appropriate or the influence it might have," Jin said.

Not everyone thinks this pursuit of profit is a bad thing. Liu Yunlu, an independent producer who went to watch the film soon after it was released, said that the film could be regarded as a good example of market-oriented approach.

In multiple media reports, the producers of Tiny Times explained how they carried out comprehensive research into the fan base of Guo's books as well as other target audience members, in a bid to cater to their demands.

Around 40 percent of those who viewed the film were high school students and loyal fans of Guo's books or the stars, the film's promotion company said.

Li Wei, 24, went to watch the movie with her friends in late June, saying that the cinema was packed. She said however, that many of them had indicated they were there out of curiosity because the film had been widely discussed online before its release.

Many audience members reached by the Global Times said the same, adding that they couldn't remember many details about the plot, but they were struck by the luxury products and certain scenes which didn't seem necessary.

"I won't say it's bad or shouldn't have been released because of that. It's actually presenting the reality of what some youth think," one 17-year-old audience member said.

But Jin said it was not appropriate for film makers and producers to be that businesses-oriented as film makers and artists have a responsibility in terms of creating moral products.

He did however, say that China is not unique in facing this kind of materialism. "After World War II, America witnessed the 'beat generation' which was confused about changes in society, which in my view is similar to the period that China is going through," Jin said.

"We have witnessed huge progress in the economy, people are getting richer but they are also confused about their growing wealth. Films like Tiny Times speak to that confusion."

The little exposure to international audiences that the film has received has led to responses that were far from complimentary. Writing in the Atlantic, one commentator said that the film portrayed Shanghainese women as "vapid and shallow" and said the film set back the cause of female equality.

Wang Xiaoyu, a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai and a high-profile media commentator, pointed out that the audiences don't have much choice in films at the moment. He said that censorship meant that quality films were not being screened, and the lack of diversity left a void that was being filled with movies such as Tiny Times.

"Some of other good movies didn't get the chance to be released," Wang said, adding that creating more cultural diversity would be another solution that could help to improve the values of modern Chinese youth.

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